Accusations and rebuttals continued to fly in West New York last week as the candidates geared up for the municipal election on Tuesday, May 10. Residents will elect five candidates for the West New York Board of Commissioners. Those five will then choose a mayor from among themselves.
“If you lie, or if you omit the truth, you don’t have the character to be mayor of this town.” – Sal Vega
The challenging team, under the moniker “Together We Can,” consists of Dr. Felix Roque, Assemblywoman Caridad Rodriguez, Fior D’Aliza Frias, Dr. Count Wiley, and Ruben Vargas.
Omitting the truth
On Tuesday, Vega and Fernandez-Lopez, along with members of the West New York Women’s Club, gathered at Vega Team 2011 headquarters to publicly denounce what they say was a “dangerous decision” made by Roque in his West New York medical practice.
The topic of the press conference was a matter nearly a decade old involving Roque and a Paterson podiatrist whose medical license had been suspended in 1996 after he pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual contact and was placed on probation.
In 2003, the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners determined that the podiatrist should be allowed the opportunity to restore his license after he underwent psychotherapy and demonstrated that he had been rehabilitated.
As part of an Order of Limited Reinstatement, the board required that the podiatrist resume his practice of podiatry only under Dr. Roque’s direct supervision, along with a nurse acting as a full-time chaperone.
Vega chastised Roque for “bringing a sexual predator” to West New York, allowing him to regain his license, and for not telling residents about the arrangement.
“If you lie, or if you omit the truth, you don’t have the character to be mayor of this town,” said Vega.
Roque did not deny the allegation but said that he did not seek out the opportunity to oversee the doctor, but rather was asked to do so by the Board of Medical Examiners. Roque added that at no time was the other doctor employed by Roque, nor was Roque compensated for providing the supervision. The other doctor was resuming his own practice.
Roque admitted that he could have said no to the medical board’s request, but likened it to a call of duty.
“[The medical board] entrusted me to rehabilitate another physician,” said Roque. “I am not the judge nor am I the jury. In my opinion, we are all children of God; we all deserve the opportunity to rehabilitate. If not, why then do we have jails, judges, and lawyers?”
“At no time did I see any deviant behavior; nor did the nurse,” said Roque. To further prove his point, Roque added that the board ultimately decided to give the man his license back and as far as he knows, the man is still practicing medicine without any further incident.
According to the State of New Jersey sex offender registry, there are approximately 20 sex offenders registered within West New York town limits.
The podiatrist in question does not appear in that registry under West New York or any other New Jersey municipality.
Paul Swibinski of Vision Media, which handles public relations for Vega, speculated that the omission of that man from the database may be due to the fact that he was convicted prior to the implementation of the registry system.
Roque questioned the timing of Vega’s interest in the case and alleged that it was a “political ploy.”
Vega said that the town found out about it via a citizen’s tip approximately three weeks ago, and said the delay in releasing the information until this week was due to fact-checking.
The mudslinging was part of a long war of words during the campaign.
Earlier this month Vega’s team criticized Roque for not releasing his income tax information after saying that he would.
But on Wednesday, Roque sent a copy of his 2010 tax return to the Reporter. According to that document, Roque earned $380,725 last year.
Roque has complained about Vega earning money in several taxpayer-funded positions. Besides being mayor, Vega is the athletic director for Memorial High School. At one point, he was also an assemblyman.
Roque explained his delayed release of information – and explained his prior statement that he didn’t know how much he earns – by saying he was in the process of completing his tax return prior to the April 18 deadline.
He added that now that he has released his personal income, he expects Vega to release the amount that the town has spent on settlements of lawsuits since he’s been in office.
The Reporter has also tried to get details about the town’s settlement of a recent sexual harassment lawsuit against Vega by a former town worker. The town has not provided details.
At the press conference, Vega said, “Felix Roque is no neighbor to the people of West New York.” Vega has previously questioned Roque’s residence in town and asked him to reveal all the properties he owns around the world.
On Wednesday, Roque said that although he does own properties in Union City and maintains a post office box in Cliffside Park, he resides full-time in his one-bedroom unit in West New York.
“He knows where I live because he has an investigator waiting for me outside every morning,” said Roque. “It’s not my fault that I’m living the American dream. I cannot be what he is, which is a political parasite.”
Stirring up old mud
Vega used the press conference as an opportunity to bring up a litany of problems that he sees with the Together We Can campaign, including their acceptance of a donation over the state limit.
Roque’s camp has admitted in the newspapers that accepting the donation over the $5,000 limit was a mistake, and they have returned the excess amount of particular donation to the businessperson who donated it.
Several other accusations were leveled last week, although they could not be verified by press time.
Casting an educated vote
The 10 candidates from both major slates participated in an election forum hosted by The Hudson Reporter recently, which can be viewed at www.hudsonreporter.com.
An independent candidate, Ercides Aguasvives, has also filed for election but did not respond to correspondence inviting him to participate in the forum. A link to a website for that candidate’s campaign – www.electaguasvivas.com was found, but there is no contact information other than a place to send donations.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.